Dr. Lucas Budden is an associate veterinarian at Craig Road Animal Hospital in North West Las Vegas, Nevada and is a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine. In this blog post, Dr. Budden explains why bloodwork and routine lab work are important for the health of senior pets.

By Lucas Budden DVM

Puppies and kittens tend to get a lot of the attention, but we love our senior patients just as much. They’ve been through a lot of life’s changes with us and sometimes know us better than most people do. They’re our best friends and members of our family, and they know when we’re sick or sad. They can’t always tell us everything they’re feeling in a language we can easily understand. Compared to humans, dogs and cats aren’t very good about “complaining” when they start to have problems – so it’s up to us to make sure they’re staying healthy, happy, and pain-free by trying to catch disease, before they have to tell us about it.

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Age itself is not a disease. As pets age, certain problems become more common: their organ function can decline, metabolic diseases like diabetes can develop, or they can get cancer. Just as in humans, many of these conditions are very treatable, or even curable, if they are caught early. As they progress, they become more difficult to treat. Many pets will hide signs of illness from us for years.

A common thing we hear in the exam room when we see senior pets is, “He’s slowing down a bit with age.” It’s possible for pets to get a little less bouncy as they age, but unfortunately this can also be a sign that they are uncomfortable or have something going on that is sapping their energy. We also hear about changes in appetite, the amount of water they are drinking, or how much they are urinating. Knowing your pet’s normal habits is important and small changes may be the only signs a dog or cat will give us in the early stages of disease.

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Because our pets can hide these changes from us, it’s especially important for senior pets to have full examinations at least once a year. When you see someone every day, it can be hard to pick up on gradual changes, like weight loss or a different hairstyle, but if you haven’t seen that person for a while, you might notice those things right away. Your veterinarian will note changes in weight, coat, and much more when they examine your pet and talks to you about how things are going at home. Enlarged organs, cataracts, lumps in or under the skin, and heart murmurs or arrhythmias are just some of the conditions that can sometimes be detected by a good physical exam – and many of these can be red flags that something more might be brewing internally.

In most cases, even the best physical exam can’t tell the whole story about what is going on inside a pet. While our own doctors can ask us how we feel and what might be changing, vets often rely on lab tests along with exams to help them assess your pet’s health. A screening senior profile should be part of your pet’s annual wellness visit, and many pets, such as cats with early kidney disease or dogs with mild changes in their liver values, may benefit from having this done twice a year. Remember that pets age more quickly than we do. If our doctors recommend that we have bloodwork checked once a year, consider that during that year, a dog or cat might age the equivalent of 5 or even 10 human years depending on their age, breed, and overall health.

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So, what are we looking at when we run senior wellness lab work?

– Blood chemistry: This is a “bird’s eye view” of your pet’s organ function and health – liver and kidney values, blood sugar, protein levels, electrolytes, calcium and phosphorus, are just some of the information on this important screening test.
– Complete blood count (CBC): Red and white blood cell and platelet counts (important for clotting the blood) and how they relate to one another can be indicators of disease in both early and later stages.
– Thyroid testing: The thyroid is a commonly affected gland in both dogs and cats. some pets show obvious signs of over- or under-active thyroids, but many don’t until the disease may have caused irreversible damage to other organs.
– Urinalysis: Bloodwork is only part of the equation when it comes to evaluating your pet’s overall health. A urine sample can be the first indicator of kidney disease, high blood pressure, elevated calcium, bladder stones, infectious disease, cancer and others.

Senior wellness lab work provides a baseline should your pet become ill. If your cat has normal screening tests in January, and in June you notice she is starting to vomit and lose a little weight, repeating those tests can highlight changes – such as a mild elevation in kidney values or a borderline thyroid measurement – that may help us diagnose the problem more quickly. If she had not previously had lab work done, it would be less clear whether these things were recent developments that may be causing illness, or chronic, stable changes unrelated to the new vomiting and weight loss.

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We rely on our pets for emotional support and love, and in return, they rely on us to make sure they are staying comfortable as they age. We are honored to be part of your pets’ health care team! Please call us to schedule your pet’s senior wellness appointment and let us help them stay healthy, happy, and by your side for as long as they possibly can.

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